The word “you” or the second person point of view should be used with caution. The word “you” can imply (if used incorrectly) that the author knows more than the reader and sometimes be condescending and offensive. Eliminating the word “you” can make writing feel more neutral. If used too often, the word “you” can also be confusing to the reader. When reading the word “you” too often in a article or written piece, I often get confused and wonder who “you” is.
According to Roberts and Jacobs, the “second person (you) occurs (1) when the speaker (e.g., parent, psychologist) knows more about a character’s actions than the character himself or herself, or (2) when the speaker (e.g., lawyer, spouse, friend, sports umpire, angry person) is explaining to another person (the “you” that person’s disputable actions and statements. The speaker may also use “you” to mean (3) himself or herself or (4) anyone at all (p. 249).”
As a writer, I have noticed that I also tend to use the word “you” naturally – referring to a reader, who could be “anyone at all (p. 249).” After reading a handout given to me by a doctor that used the word “you” in a article that was meant to be educational, but felt offensive and condescending, I have rethought the second person point of view.
Now, when revising, I am careful to watch how many times the word “you” is used and if the word “you” is necessary. Unfortunately, the word “you” is so convenient because it as Roberts and Jacobs write, “eliminates the need for pronouns such as he, she, or he or she (p. 246).”
Nouns can usually replace the word “you”. If writing about how to fill out an application writers could say “This is how you fill out an application” or writers can write, “This is how an applicant should fill out this form.” So when revising see how many times the word “you” is written. Eliminate the word “you” if at all possible.
Roberts, Edgar V. and Henry E. Jacobs, eds. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.